The Cardinals currently sit 6.5 games behind the Brewers for the NL Central lead, but do hold the 2nd Wild Card slot by ½ a game. The Cardinals’ starting pitchers rank 2nd in the Majors in ERA, yet the club will likely be in the market for a starter, after 3 starters have gone down with injuries. Joe Kelly has missed more time than expected with a hamstring injury, but just began his rehab assignment. Both Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia have gone down with shoulder injuries and the club is not sure how long both will be on the DL. The real question for the Cardinals is whether they will go for an ace-like starter (i.e. David Price) or a cheaper rental/middle rotation arm (i.e. Jason Hammel). Despite their interest in pitching, the Cardinals are more in need of offensive help, especially at 2nd base. Their targets will consist of 3rd basemen, who could move Carpenter back to 2nd base, and 2nd basemen.
Jason Hammel – RHP, Chicago Cubs:
Hammel is in the midst of a very productive season for the Cubs, but is still a near lock to be traded, as the Cubs struggle through another poor season. The righty has a 2.98 ERA, which is supported by his 3.11 FIP and an 18.8 K-BB%. Hammel is a Free Agent after this season, so he is just a rental player, which should limit the price for the Cardinals to acquire him. The Cards will likely have to give up a prospect or two that rank between 10 and 20 in their system.
Ian Kennedy – RHP, San Diego Padres:
Kennedy has posted a rather pedestrian 4.01 ERA with the Padres this season, but he has a career high K/9 of 9.67 and a FIP of 2.92. Because Kennedy has another year of team control, he may cost a little more in terms of talent for the Cardinals to acquire him. Kennedy should command a Top 10 prospect from the Cardinals’ system, but no one that is in the top 5.
Justin Masterson – RHP, Cleveland Indians:
The 29-year-old righty has struggled to a 5.03 ERA through his first 17 starts, so even if the Indians are in contention they may be willing to move him because he is a Free Agent following the season. Despite his high ERA, the Cardinals may take this opportunity to buy-low on a guy with 3.90 FIP and a high GB%. If Masterson begins pitching better, he may require a prospect between Top 10 and Top 15.
Brandon McCarthy – RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks:
McCarthy is almost a lock to be traded, as he is being paid over $9 Million this season and the Diamondbacks are struggling through a very disappointing season. His 5.11 ERA is not truly indicative of his skill level, as he has a 55.6 GB% and a 20.3 HR/FB%, which is unsustainable. His xFIP, which normalizes his HR/FB rate, is 2.92. McCarthy is another buy-low candidate for a Cardinals team that should be more focused on offensive upgrades rather than starting pitchers. McCarthy will likely command a prospect between the Cardinals’ Top 15 and 20.
David Price – LHP, Tampa Bay Rays:
Easily the best player on the market and would be the ace of most teams in the league. The Rays hold all the leverage, as they can wait until the off-season to deal him because he has another season of team control, so he is not a rental player. Nevertheless, the Rays are eager to trade him now, as they battle through a disappointing season. Price already has a Cy Young award under his belt and is in the midst of arguably his best season. He has a career-high K/9 of 10.45 and a career-low BB/9 of 1.02. Price also has a xFIP of 2.54, which is much better than his 3.63 ERA. Price will likely command a package of 3-4 quality players with at least 1 elite prospect (Oscar Taveras) or 2 plus-plus talents (Carlos Martinez, Matt Adams, Shelby Miller, Stephen Piscotty, or Marco Gonzalez). If the Cardinals do acquire Price, they will likely sign him long-term for somewhere around $25 Million dollars per year for 6 or 7 years.
Jeff Samardzija – RHP, Chicago Cubs:
Samardzija is a solid #2/3 starter for most clubs and has really come into his own this season. The 29-year-old righty has a 2.83 ERA and a 3.06 FIP through his first 17 starts. He should not be as expensive as Price because he is not a true ace, but he is also controllable beyond this season. This move is a little less likely than the above trades because the Cubs are within the Cardinals’ division and both teams may be reluctant to make a move of such magnitude with another team in their division.
Jason Frasor – RHP, Texas Rangers:
Frasor has been outstanding as the Rangers’ primary setup man and could serve in a similar role for the Cardinals. He has compiled a 2.13 ERA through his first 25 1/3 innings out of the pen. Since he is a Free Agent following the season and the Rangers are open to dealing, he should not be too expensive for the Cardinals to acquire, maybe a Top 10-15 prospect.
Joakim Soria – RHP, Texas Rangers:
Soria has served as the Rangers closer this season and dominated to the tune of a 0.85 FIP and 15 saves. He would likely serve as the Cardinals primary 8th inning man if acquired, but may be too expensive for the Cardinals’ needs, as they will not want to pay the price for a closer. They should still consider the righty because he is easily the best reliever available on the market. However, since the Cardinals’ system is so strong, he may command one of their Top 10 prospects.
Dale Thayer – RHP, San Diego Padres:
The Padres are in the midst of Front Office turnover, so it is unclear who is available, but Thayer will likely be available as he is 33 years old and enjoying a career best season. Even though Thayer is controllable beyond this season, he should be made available because the Padres will not be competitive for a few years, as they undergo a rebuild. His 1.85 ERA is a career best, but not supported by his peripherals as he has a 3.72 FIP. This difference between FIP and ERA should drop his price enough for the Cardinals to be interested.
Brad Ziegler – RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks:
Ziegler is signed through 2015 with a club option for 2016, so he is not a lock to be traded, but with the Diamondbacks struggling through another disappointing season, they should look to deal him while his value is high. Ziegler is in the midst of his fourth straight season with an ERA below 2.50. The 34-year-old is a great fit for the Cardinals as he has consistently had a GB% around 70% and despite his submarine delivery, Ziegler has no apparent splits between lefties and righties. The righty’s price may be higher than Soria’s because he is controllable beyond this season, so he should bring a Top 10 prospect to the Diamondbacks.
Gordon Beckham – 2nd Baseman, Chicago White Sox:
Beckham is controllable beyond this season, but the White Sox will still look to trade him in the right deal if they continue to fall out of contention. Beckham has yet to duplicate his impressive rookie campaign, which is the only season he has been above average offensively in terms of wRC+. Nevertheless, his 99 wRC+ this season would be a huge improvement for the Cardinals who have received just a 55 wRC+ from their 2nd basemen. Beckham may cost the Cardinals one of their lesser Top 10 prospects because he is controllable.
Asdrubal Cabrera – Shortstop, Cleveland Indians:
The Cardinals have been connected to Cabrera for a few years now, and even though they now have a reliable shortstop, Cabrera could still be a good fit. He could slot in at 2nd, 3rd or short and see Peralta slide to 3rd and Carpenter return to 2nd base. Cabrera has been inconsistent over the last few years, but has been above average offensively this season and would be a substantial upgrade for the Cardinals’ infield. The Indians are still contending for a playoff spot, but if they fall out of contention, they will likely look to trade Cabrera, who will be a Free Agent following the season. I’d expect Cabrera to require the Cardinals to part with a prospect ranked between 8 and 15 in their system.
Martin Prado – 3rd Baseman, Arizona Diamondbacks:
Prado has served as the Diamondbacks’ 3rd baseman, but has experience in the outfield and at 2nd base. He is signed through 2016 at about $10 Million per year, but the Diamondbacks are looking to sell and have said they are open to dealing Prado. The 30-year-old is struggling through his worst offensive season in some time, but he would still be an offensive upgrade for the Cardinals. Also, if the Diamondbacks cover some of his remaining salary, the Cardinals will not need to worry too much about the years left on his deal. An acquisition of Prado would likely block Wong from 2nd base, so any deal could center on him with a lesser prospect.
Chase Utley – 2nd baseman, Philadelphia Phillies:
I included Utley merely because the Cardinals are searching for 2nd base help, but Utley insists he will not waive his no-trade clause. If he changes his stance, the Cardinals will be among the teams calling.
Ben Zobrist – 2nd Baseman, Tampa Bay Rays:
Zobrist is the definition of a super-utility player, as he can player anywhere on field and do it well. The 33-year-old is also a plus hitter, even in a down season like this year. Zobrist has a very inexpensive club option for next season at just $7.5 Million. The Rays may not want to trade Zobrist because they expect to be competitive next season, but they will be willing to move him in the right deal and the Cardinals have the pieces to convince them. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs recently speculated that the Cardinals could try to land both Price and Zobrist by trading Oscar Taveras and a few lesser prospects or players. Personally, I do not think the Rays would accept such a deal, as they will want more than just one top prospect. I do think the Cardinals could realistically trade for both Price and Zobrist, but it will not be cheap, as the Rays covet both players.